Honoring Dr. King’s Legacy With Jobs

As the national policy debate shifts to JOBS- this urgent topic is of the utmost interest to everyday folks. Jobs and unemployment conversations are finding their way in nearly every political conversation, newspaper column, talk radio and local bar and on Thursday, September 8th President Obama will address Congress and the nation with what we hope will be an aggressive plan to create jobs.

On the eve of Hurricane Irene, the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial on the National Mall was rescheduled. But I was in Washington, DC to attend one of the events that was not cancelled and being on the Mall reminded me of why that historic protest was called “the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”

Leaders of the March and the Movement faced with oppression and racial discrimination fought for basic civil rights and much-needed social change to ensure all Americans could claim and achieve the promise of America. Undergirding that struggle was an unabashedly clear message focused on jobs, access, and economic prosperity. That same message resonates today with almost 10 million Americans collecting unemployment and countless small businesses teetering on collapse in cities and towns across the country. Right now, we need an urgent plan to reclaim jobs.

Today’s world is drastically different from the world in August 1963. Aside from the obvious social changes, in just under fifty years, we have made great strides in the areas of education, employment, healthcare, technology and other areas. We were not tweeting or emailing photos of the March back in 1963 from our smart phones. But technology has become a significant tool in access to opportunity for many Americans. We are quickly making a transition from home phones to mobile phones, from paper and pencils to laptops and even from the traditional classroom or medical waiting room to a virtual one that is more convenient and in many ways, more efficient. The times they are a changing. As we seek innovative ways to generate jobs and grow the economy, the recognition of the need and the investment in affordable access to technology infrastructure have to be a part of that solution.

Public and private investment in infrastructure from parks to water, transit to technology, rail to energy are the future and there are opportunities at every level of employment in these industries. As jobs and the economy take center stage, federal investment in infrastructure is imperative to leveraging private and local/state government investments. Even in tough economic times voters have supported local school and infrastructure bonds to improve their community’s economic health. The case can be made with most voters that investment in infrastructure pays dividends for years to come in their cities, towns and states. For instance, if our schools can offer better educational opportunities and programs online, then it is incumbent on policy makers to offer the technology solutions for people to achieve this goal.

Americans need and want jobs! They need good paying jobs to support themselves, their families, and to be viable contributors to their communities. And maybe the man we honor on the Washington Mall said it best when he said,

“We read one day, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.”